What Is Epilepsy?
A dog is considered epileptic if it experiences repeated seizures over a period of time. Sometimes the epilepsy can be caused by another underlying disease. This is called secondary epilepsy and is more common in older dogs. In other cases, no cause can be detected, and this is called primary, or idiopathic, epilepsy which is more common in younger dogs.
Epilepsy can have a genetic root and can be more common in certain breeds. It can also be caused by an undetected injury. A diagnosis of primary or secondary epilepsy is generally made after a thorough history has been taken and an appropriate workup has been conducted. Some of the tests that are used by veterinarians to diagnose epilepsy and differentiate between primary and secondary causes include routine and specialized laboratory tests, EEG, MRI or CT scan, and spinal tap.
One of the ways you can help your veterinarian arrive at an accurate diagnosis is to pay careful attention to your dog whenever it has a seizure. Being able to accurately recount seizure details, such as your pet’s specific behavior and under what kinds of circumstances the seizure has occurred, can provide your veterinarian with clues that can assist in the classification and optimal management of your dog’s epilepsy.
My Dog Has Epilepsy: Now What?
Once epilepsy has been diagnosed, the focus turns to living with the disease and managing it. If your pet has secondary epilepsy, it may be possible to treat the cause and thus prevent additional seizures. If your pet has idiopathic epilepsy, however, in which a defining cause can’t be determined, then anti-epileptic medication is generally called for depending on the frequency of seizures. The decision to medicate and the choice of medication is based on the severity and frequency of the seizures.
The good news is that, while most dogs will require lifelong treatment, carefully administered daily medication can control a majority of cases. The most important thing to remember, however, is that managing a dog with epilepsy requires scrupulous attention to recommendations regarding medication schedules and follow-up bloodwork. There are a variety of anti-epileptic medications that your veterinarian may prescribe, and each comes with its own set of cautions and monitoring requirements. It is important to remember that decreasing or increasing a dose — or stopping, starting, or missing it — can cause a dog to experience a seizure. If you have any questions regarding your pet’s medication recommendations or schedule, consult your veterinarian.
Additionally, virtually all anti-epileptic medications can cause side effects or lose effectiveness over time. For this reason, it is important to follow your veterinarian’s advice regarding any recommended follow-up tests to monitor liver function or levels of drugs in your dog’s blood.
|Coping With Seizures|
||Keep in mind that the average seizure lasts 2 minutes or less.|
||Make sure the dog is in a place where it cannot injure itself by falling off a couch or down stairs.|
||DO NOT place your hands in or near the mouth or you may be bitten.|
||Some dogs may exhibit behavioral changes immediately following a seizure. The best approach, generally, is to leave the dog strictly alone. If you have any concerns about your dog’s behavior, contact your veterinarian.|
||If your dog seizes for longer than a few minutes, or has repeated seizures throughout the day, it needs to be seen by your veterinarian immediately.|
||The safest way to transport a seizing dog is in a crate.|
A Few More Tips…
In addition to carefully monitoring medication schedules and health status, owners should pay careful attention to their pet’s diet. For example, excessive salt can affect the metabolism of certain anti-epileptic drugs, while other medications can significantly increase a dog’s thirst and appetite. As a result, obesity can be a problem for some epileptic pets, which can place undesirable and additional stress on their heart or other body systems. For that reason, it is also important to closely adhere to your veterinarian’s recommendations regarding your pet’s nutritional needs and diet.
The bottom line, however, is that following your veterinary hospital’s recommendations can allow your dog, in most cases, to lead a relatively normal life. So enjoy him or her — and your time together!
This article originally appeared in PetsMatter Nov/Dec 09 - Volume 4 Issue 6, published by the American Animal Hospital Association. Copyright © 2009 AAHA. Find out more.